New Code of Conduct: Is TUSD on the right track?

KGUN9 Multi-part series

TUCSON, Ariz - Tucson Unified students and staff have started the school year with a new Code of Conduct. Is the district off to the good start?

When Superintendent Gabriel Trujillo took over -- he ordered staff to overhaul the Code of Conduct, which the Board recently approved.

Lets go back to 2016 when we launched our investigation after staff and parents complained of severe discipline problems at some schools as the district moved to a more lenient unratified policy. Instead of bad behavior improving -- the opposite happened.

More assaults on students and teachers in hallways and classrooms had been documented in district reports.

In a tell-all interview in 2016, a former Booth Fickett principal revealed the district downplayed and under-reported serious discipline issues in the name of incident reduction -- and district documents supported the claims. Teachers complained of rampant disrespect and defiance that impacted student learning at many schools.

Veteran teacher Yolanda Sotelo along with colleagues came forward with chronic issues of tardies and unexcused absences. She reviewed the new Code of Conduct -- designed to be easier to read.

Cavazos: Overall, good start?
Sotelo. Yeah, it's a good start -- it is easier to read.

Rincon High School junior Joseph Abney, who had attended Booth Fickett during the discipline crisis, agrees. "The format of course is different compared to the other one, but you can actually understand it. It was put out in simple terms," he said.

Check -- the district appears to have simplified the policy.

But what about the enforcement? Sotelo says the lenient practices had made it hard for teachers to manage disruptive behavior that impeded learning in the classrooms.
She said, "One of the things that they did add was when a student is disruptive they can be asked to leave the classroom immediately. That's a good step with this document."

Check -- the new policy appears to have given the classroom authority back to the teachers.

"It is a different document. It gives the student -- it gives the parent -- especially the teacher -- it really gives them an understanding of what are the consequences," said Sotelo.

Teachers had expressed concern over whether they will be properly trained in implementing the new practices. TUSD tells us the district held administration and teacher sessions that lasted 45 or 60 minutes. 

45 min at New Teacher Induction
45 min at All Admin for elementary
60 min at All Admin for secondary
60 min at New Admin Induction

And the district is encouraging schools to conduct two parents sessions per year and one student session -- usually a school assembly or in-class reviews.

But Sotelo still worries the efforts of the district will fall flat because of bureaucratic language in the policy, specifically the use of the word "may" instead of "shall". "Principals may exercise reasonable discretion in deciding which violations occurred and actions that may be taken. Will they use that as an excuse not to?" said Sotelo.

Sotelo and Joseph says they'll keep a close watch on enforcement this semester. "How people treat people. How people are disciplined. That's what I'd look at," said Joseph.
  
And we'll continue to examine the progress throughout the school year and report that to you. 

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